“That’s not how Mrs. Sanchez did it in class! I’m going to get all confused if you help me! That’s not the right way!”
My daughter Sophia struggles in math. She will be entering 6th grade and every year she becomes frustrated while completing math homework. She often wants to solve problems the way her teacher has modeled it in class. Her notes are meticulous, and well organized. She tries over and over again to solve the problems. She is convinced that only one true method exists and her notes are a pathway to that successful solution. Although I was a Math major (undergrad) and have a Masters of Ed degree in both Reading and in Curriculum & Instruction, my assistance is unwanted. She sits annoyed, biting her pencil.
Fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles my own children and students in my G&T cyber classroom face. Year after year, I see the hesitation to take risks, try something new and share their ideas. They are intently focused on being “right”, finding the “right”answers, and doing it the “right way”. Failure is such an important part of life and of learning. I can’t help but wonder, have we conditioned our learners to fear failure?
Are we grooming learners to only focus on correct answers?
Our current educational system is essentially a series of questions and responses. The all knowing teacher asks a question and our learners sift through information to find the “right” answer. From a learner’s first year of school we focus on that right answer. We give praise, shout outs, stickers, and high fives for a correct response. Instead of focusing on the process of learning, we place emphasis on the product; that end-all-be-all “right” answer.
Often when a learner responds with a wrong answer, we pour on some shame of being incorrect by giving additional work. We ask our learners to review, reread, rewrite, or memorize some more. We say “You were close, but need to study more”. With this method, we not only crush their self esteem, but we diminish their thirst for innovation. We flat line risk taking and we rob them of the opportunity to whole heartedly embrace their attempts at being vulnerable. We’re telling our learners that making mistakes and taking risks (which might lead to failure) is shameful. This can restrict our learners creativity and imagination, leading to a fixation of always being “right”.
By focusing on correct answers, are we assisting our learners to reach their full potential?
Failure is such an important part of life. When I was a kid and tried out for sports, you either made the team or didn’t. If you were cut, you tried harder the following year. You practiced and honed those skills every chance you got. There is a sense of vulnerability when trying out for a team position. You put yourself out there. The risk of trying out, was real. It’s quite different now. In some districts, children automatically get a spot on the team; tryouts consist of just showing up. This “we all win”, “we all get a trophy” mentality is puzzling to me and I have questioned it a lot with my own children. Where is the challenge, the determination and the perseverance? Where is the practicing and learning of skills? Where is the resiliency and grit that attempting and failing provides?
“Your biggest risk isn’t failing; it’s getting too comfortable.”
~ Drew Houston
As teachers, we constantly reinforce and correct learner behaviors. We try and mold students into something we feel is academically sound, socially acceptable and age appropriate. This constant guiding, shaping and grooming is evident in our lessons and in our assessments. When we set up our learners to “play it safe” and answer correctly, we short change them. We make it too comfortable for them. We are teaching them to fly under the radar, and to settle for the status quo. Where’s the learning and growth in that? Our learners need to think big, and push themselves out of their comfort zone. Great learning depends on great risk taking. Success is a part of a character building process, and learning from failure is a piece of the puzzle.
Many educators say, vulnerability leads to great innovation. As we begin developing this generation, we need to ask our learners to question, to be curious, and be risk takers. We need to tell them it’s OK to fail, and not to solely focus on their achievement. Our learners must have a no fear attitude. Experimentation will lead to empowerment and an accepting attitude towards vulnerability in and out of our classrooms. This will promote confidence and courage in our learners, and enable innovative and creative thinking. When teachers allow experimentation, what they are saying is “we trust in you, we believe in your thinking and want you to feel confident with taking chances. Challenge the status quo and learn from the mistakes you make” This is a critical step in the learning process. As the great one, Wayne Gretzky, so eloquently put it: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”.
“Its not the mistake that matters. It’s how you deal with it, what you learn from it, and how you apply that lesson to your life.”